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Before You Start (Building the World We Dream About)

Determine the calendar schedule for workshops. Enter the information in the congregational calendar.

Invite participants. It is best to personally invite individuals to participate. If appropriate, you can also use flyers, announcements, and your congregation's website to publicize the program. Find a sample invitation letter in Resources, the next section of this Introduction. You may find useful a two-page handout (PDF) that answers common questions about the program.

Choose a meeting space. The workshop space should be large enough to comfortably seat all participants and should have an easel or wall space for newsprint. Some activities call for a different arrangement of furniture, breakout spaces for small groups, or tables for working with art materials.

Arrange for child care. If individuals need child care to participate, plan how you will offer it.

Pay attention to workshops that require significant advance preparation. Each workshop requires leaders to spend two to three hours in planning and spiritual preparation. For some workshops, leaders need to make arrangements in advance:

  • Workshop 10 - Obtain materials for aesthetic journaling.
  • Workshop 13 - Invite guests; plan for music and refreshments.
  • Workshop 17 - Recruit a panel of People of Color and other people marginalized by race or ethnicity to share their experiences and reflections.
  • Workshop 18 - Arrange walks in the broader community; investigate possible contacts and locations that will help participants practice observing with their new antiracist/multicultural lens.
  • Workshop 20 - Prepare materials and space for simulation and case study activities.
  • Workshop 23 - Invite guests; plan for music and refreshments.

Terminology and language usage. When Unitarian Universalists ask "How can we become more diverse or more multicultural?" they are generally referring to racial and ethnic diversity, rather than to other kinds of diversity. For this reason, when we use the term "antiracist/multicultural faith community" or speak of "multicultural competency" in this program, the multiculturalism to which we refer is racial and ethnic diversity. Although racial and ethnic identities can and do intersect and overlap with other identities, including social class, gender orientation, affectional orientation, and ability/disability, the focus of Building the World We Dream About is race and ethnicity.

Never in our shared history has it been more difficult to find language to describe accurately or "name" our racial/ethnic selves. Linguists tell us the words we use not only express ideas, but actually shape the way we understand ourselves and others. Because of this reality, it is important to consider the role of language in the work of building multiracial/multicultural congregations.

Consider:

  • A person from Jamaica may self-identify as Jamaican, Black, or Caribbean, or as a Person of Color.
  • A person with Asian facial features and dark brown eyes, skin, and hair may reveal that she considers herself a white person.
  • Some Latina/o and Asian people flinch when they hear themselves included in the term "People of Color." They may say this label too narrowly defines them or excludes the complexity of their ethnic or cultural identity in the world.
  • Imagine a blended family with a Muslim, Palestinian person (considered "White" by the U.S. government) who marries an African American. What racial/ethnic identity best describes members of that family?
  • Some African Americans prefer not to use that label because they see few—if any—connections in their daily lives to the continent and people of Africa.

To build multicultural competency, we need to let go of the notion that one "correct" terminology will apply to all situations. Sometimes people from the dominant culture assume the right to decide what word or words are appropriate to name another person's race or ethnicity, often in the name of clarity or ease of use. However, to assume the right to name another's experience or to decide what term best describes another's race or ethnicity is to imply, "My dominant status is so powerful I get to decide how others should name themselves." Names are important, especially to the one who is being named!

The question of language is even more complex when we take into account the fact that the categories and terms we use to describe ourselves and others are not static, but fluid and overlapping. We must remain open to hearing how people describe themselves, and we must learn from those exchanges. Building the World We Dream About seeks to empower individuals and congregations to restructure our racist world by learning how to identify differences in language and perspective and discern what those differences mean in particular congregational and community contexts.

Recognizing that language is always imprecise in naming racial/ethnic or cultural experiences, for editorial purposes, choices have been made about language use in this program. While the political activist community uses the phrase "People of Color" when speaking of those marginalized by systems of privilege and oppression, some people who are marginalized by those systems do not feel included by the umbrella term, "People of Color." To be as inclusive as possible, this program uses the phrase "People of Color and other people marginalized by race and ethnicity" to describe persons and groups that have been systematically oppressed by dominant groups and cultures. This phrase is meant to include racial/ethnic identity groups such as African Americans, Native Americans or First Nations Peoples, Latinas/os, Asians, and Pacific Islanders, as well as persons with white skin (or who classify/are classified as White) who, nonetheless, experience discrimination, exclusion, or oppression at the hands of the dominant racial/ethnic group. People whose heritage is Arab, Middle Eastern, Latinas/o, and Jewish may see themselves in this experience.

The program author and editor realize that even the descriptors in "People of Color and other people marginalized by race and ethnicity" may leave participants with uneasy thoughts and feelings. We invite you to talk in the workshops about these tensions and also to be open to new insights and varied perspectives.

There are Unitarian Universalists who believe the term "antiracism" carries a negative tone and, ultimately, moves justice work away from the values of individual freedom and societal equity. These critics argue that such terminology inadvertently re-centers "Whiteness" as the norm instead of creating language that refuses to divide people along racial/ethnic lines. Indeed, cultural theorists such as Anthony Appiah and Amy Gutmann have approached this situation by creating material to break us out of this problem, for example by focusing on a more positive, "color consciousness" approach to this work.

Building the World We Dream About builds on Unitarian Universalist history and congregations' expressed desire for an antiracism/multiculturalism program. This program is grounded in a belief that race and racism are so much a part of the fabric of our individual and collective lives that Unitarian Universalists and other justice-seeking people must take intentional steps to name racism and dismantle its vestiges. We must actively challenge racism, and rewire our hearts and minds to overcome it.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Friday, December 9, 2011.

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